Thursday, December 20, 2018

Not Even a Blip: The Great Flop of Climategate #3

The results of a "Google Trends" examination of the number of searchers for the term "Climategate." The large peak in 2009 was generated by the wave of interest created by the release of the first batch of e-mails exchanged among climate scientists. A few weeks ago, a new batch of mails was released, but it generated no interest: not even a blip in the curve.

You remember the "Climategate" story, don't you? It was in November 2009 when a batch of private e-mail messages exchanged by climate scientists was stolen and diffused over the Web. The bruhaha that resulted was unbelievable and the messages were described as the "proof" that Climate Science was an elaborate hoax, a conspiracy created by scientists in order to gain money, prestige and influence.

The peak you see at the beginning of this post is a plot from "Google Trends," it shows how the Climategate term literally exploded in the memesphere. Today, after nearly 10 years, we could legitimately scratch our heads at thinking what there was so interesting in this story that deserved so much time and so much discussion. Really, there was nothing in those emails-- on the whole, they were as boring as mail messages among scientists could be (*).

So much overhyped was the Climategate 'scandal' that the later attempts to resuscitate it were hit by the memetic curse of irrelevance. A new batch of e-mails exchanged among climate scientists was released in 2011, it was termed "Climategate #2" and it is barely visible as a small peak in the Google Trends curve (see above). Then, a third batch was released just a few weeks ago, this time by the force of an FOIA directed at the University of Arizona.

The result? Not even a blip in the Google Trends curve (see the figure above). Nothing, zero, zilch, nul, nada, niente. The infamous blog what's there that's up? tried to raise interest in these mails, but the results were dismaying. The posts on the subjects generated a few hundred comments from hardcore science deniers, but it doesn't seem that anyone could find anything interesting to say. It is part of the harsh laws of memetics: nothing goes viral if there is not a good reason for it to do so.

So, Climategate seems to have died not with a bang, but with a whisper, as it was probably unavoidable. But that raises the question of why such an uninteresting story raised so much interest. There is only one possible explanation for this, it was a Dark Public Relations (DPR) job. Someone paid for having the Climategate story to go viral and it worked beautifully. Indeed, from the results we reported in a recent paper that we (myself and my coworkers Perissi and Falsini) published in Kybernetes, we can say that this growth was not generated by a bottom-up 'viral' mechanism, but by a top-down 'fallout' mode generated by the media. As I argued in a previous post, a concerted (and financed) defamation campaign against climate science started in 2006, the Climategate story was part of it.

Now, the concerted effort of defamation of climate science seems to have faded, as shown by the failure of keeping the Climategate story alive. It may be because there is no money available to push the mainstream media to rekindle the interest in this subject and that, in turn, may be because there is no need to defame climate science anymore. The DPR operation has been a success: the legend that climate change is a hoax is by now entrenched in a significant fraction of the public, especially in the US. Once they are 'encysted" memes may have a long life and they may well kill their host, I this case, the victim will be humankind, unable to react effectively against the threat of global warming. Indeed, the laws of memetics aren't just harsh -- they can be deadly.


(*) In 2016, Aaron Bandler tried to pick up again the Climategate story in an article titled "Nine Things you Need to Know About the Climate Change Hoax"appeared on the Daily Wire, where he endeavored to explain why and how the Climategate mails proved that Climate Science is a hoax. The first item of his list is titled "The Climategate scandal proved that key data involving man-made climate change was manipulated."

Oh, yeah? So, what is this "proof"?  -- read carefully the whole article by Bandler and scratch your head. There is strictly nothing in the article that comes directly from the Climategate mails -- yep, not a single citation, not an excerpt, not a summary, nothing-nothing. The "nine things you need to know" are either posterior to the Climategate story or unrelated to it. There is nothing in the Climategate mails that could even vaguely prove that climate science is a hoax. Nothing interesting here, move along, folks.


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)